Jan 18, 2018

Spicy Rigatoni

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cook Time: 2 hrs
Rigatoni pasta is served tossed in a spicy, creamy sauce with onion soubise, tomatoes, cream and a touch of calabrian chilies for just the right spice in this recipe similar to Carbone's famous dish.

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If you have ever been to NYC’s Italian restaurant Carbone then you have definitely had their famous spicy rigatoni. You can’t make the trip without ordering it. At Carbone, the house-made rigatoni is tossed in a chunky, spicy bright orange sauce the color of the Hermés logo; and it tastes just as luxurious.

Spicy Rigatoni

What is spicy rigatoni sauce?

While some refer to it as a vodka sauce, it’s more than that (plus the Carbone spicy rigatoni recipe doesn’t actually use vodka in their sauce) – it’s different than other vodka sauces that I’ve had and is definitely spicier. It’s more similar to a creamy arrabbiata sauce.

Restaurant’s like Los Angeles hot spot Jon + Vinny’s have a similar spicy fusili dish where a similar sauce is served pureed until smooth before it’s tossed with the pasta. Pro tip: you can have them add burrata to theirs! Try it at home with this recipe.

I’ve been to the restaurant’s location in Las Vegas twice and since there isn’t one in Los Angeles, and after eating there, I knew that I had to find a way to recreate a similar version of the recipe to satiate my carb cravings. Watch a how-to video for my version of the Carbone spicy rigatoni recipe here.

spicy rigatoni sauce cooking with cocktail rings

What’s in the spicy rigatoni sauce?

  • Onion soubise (slow simmered onions)
  • Garlic
  • Whole peeled tomatoes
  • Cream
  • Calabrian chili
  • Crushed red pepper

What is onion soubise?

My personal mission was to create a comparable dupe sauce to the one I found myself craving. The base of the sauce is an onion soubise, an easy, three-ingredient French sauce. The onions are cooked over a long period of time at a low heat until they become tender and flavorful. Onion soubise is classically puréed with cream as an accompaniment to meat such as a seared steak or roast chicken.

The goal isn’t to put color on the onions but to coax out the flavor so don’t try to rush it. Make the onion mixture a few days ahead of time and reheat when needed in order to minimize the day of prep.

spicy rigatoni cooking with cocktail rings

How to make spicy rigatoni

Step 1

Make the onion soubise by slowly simmering the onions in butter and a little water.

Step 2

In a large pot sauté the garlic then add the tomato paste, tomatoes and sugar. 

Step 3

Simmer then season with salt 

Step 4

Add the onion soubise followed by the cream, chili paste and red pepper flakes. 

Step 5

Cook the pasta, making sure you save some of the pasta cooking water.  

Step 6

Ladle the sauce over the pasta, stirring to combine and adding pasta water as needed to make the sauce creamy. 

Step 7

Serve and enjoy!

spicy rigatoni cooking with cocktail rings recipe closeup

FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What if I can’t find calabrian chilies? 

While they are becoming more widely available (Trader Joe’s Bomba sauce is a good substitute) if you can’t track down calabrian chili paste then I’d recommend finely chopping fire roasted red peppers and stirring them together with crushed red pepper flakes to form a paste. It won’t have the exact same flavor but it will do in a pinch.

If you can’t find calabrian chili paste at your local store I’d recommend ordering a jar from Williams Sonoma or Amazon. If you can only find whole jarred Calabrian chilies, simply remove the stems and finely chop them.

Do I really need to simmer the onions for that long?

Yes! Slowly cooking them coaxes out the subtle, sweet onion flavor and turns it into a buttery, jam-like consistency. It mellows the harsh flavor of onions. You don’t want caramelized onions for this.

Should I add olive oil to my pasta water?

No! You want this sauce to bind to the noodles – this is aided by the addition of the pasta water. Adding oil when cooking the noodles will make them slippery and the sauce won’t stick as well. 

How is this creamy arrabiata sauce different from vodka sauce?

It’s more of a creamy arrabbiata sauce. Vodka sauce such as this one here don’t typically have whole tomatoes, the base of the sauce is just tomato paste and cream flavored by shallots, a touch of vodka and red pepper. This sauce gets it’s flavor from the slowly simmered onions while the spice comes from the Calabrian chilies and red pepper flakes. 

Can I blend the sauce?

Yes! If you like a creamier, silky sauce, then throw all or half the sauce into the blender. This will make the sauce be more similar to the famed pasta dish from Jon & Vinny’s in Los Angeles.

What else can I do with Calabrian chilies once I’ve bought them?

So you bought a jar of Calabrian chili peppers and want some more uses? Try my Angry bee pizza with Calabrian chilies and honey, this porchetta, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich with calabrian chili ketchup, spicy Calabrian chili beef ragu or this Italian sloppy Joe.

spicy rigatoni recipe from cooking with cocktail rings pasta dinner

Other Recipes to Try

If you enjoy this spicy rigatoni recipe, I recommend checking out some of these:

Spicy Rigatoni

Print Pin
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Serves 6


  • 2 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste*
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound rigatoni (or penne, lumache or pipe rigate)


  • Heat a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the butter, ½ cup of water and the onions to the pan. Continue to simmer the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are tender, about 1½ hours. Season with salt then set aside and let cool.
  • In a large pot over medium heat add the olive oil and heat through. Add the garlic and sauté briefly, then add the tomato paste, the tomatoes and sugar, stirring to combine.
  • Let simmer for 15 minutes, then season to taste with salt.
  • Add the onion mixture to the pot and stir to combine then whisk in the cream, chili paste and chili flakes.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add the salt and bring back to the boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 8 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water then drain, and return the pasta to the pot.
  • Ladle the sauce over the top and toss to combine, cooking for an additional minute. If the sauce is too thick, add the pasta water 2 tablespoons at a time to thin the sauce.
  • Serve the spicy rigatoni hot in warmed pasta bowls.


Calabrian chili paste is a spicy mixture made from crushed and oil-packed Calabrian chilies; a smoky and sweet pepper that adds a lot a flavor and just the right amount of spice. Be careful, a little goes a long way. It can be found at some specialty grocery stores, Italian markets or online on Williams Sonoma here.



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Recipe Rating

  1. This looks delicious! I am having a hard time finding Calabrian Chili Paste and wanted to make this for NYE tomorrow so ordering online is not an option. If I were to substitute with Chili Pepper flakes, how much would you recommend using? Would you use the full 2 tbsp? Thanks!!

    • I hope you were still able to make and enjoy the recipe, apologies for the delayed response! I would recommend using about 1 tbsp and testing out the spice level before adding more! Since they are just the pepper flakes and not the full crushed peppers they will likely carry more heat!

  2. I’m excited to try this recipe but just have a question about the calabrian chili paste! The trader joes Bomba sauce is fermented, will that change the flavor of the dish? I couldn’t find calabrian chili paste anywhere but do have a trader joes nearby, just don’t want to alter the flavors. Thank you!

    • While there is nothing quite the same as the flavor of Calabrian chilies a mix of finely chopped roasted red peppers (packed in oil) & crushed red pepper flakes should be similar enough!! Trader Joe’s now carries calabrian chili paste – they call it "Italian Bomba hot pepper sauce". Hope this helps!

    • I know it seems like a very long time but it is 90 minutes/ 1 1/2 hours! Rather than caramelizing and sautéing the onions/ they are simmered in the butter/ water mixture until they break down and from an onion soubise.

  3. What about grating the onions in a food processor before hand or puréeing the onion sauce before putting into the tomato sauce. I feel like the carbone dish is just the orange sauce instead of sauce and visible onions.

    • If you want to go that route I would recommend puréeing the onions into the sauce before adding the cream. The onions cook down so much the sauce is pretty smooth but it’s totally up to preference!

  4. I’ve been wanting to recreate this recipe since my husband and I tried this at carbone, and your recipe is perfect to a T. We thought it came out as good as, if not better! That onion soubise was key, and the Calabrian chili – thanks for not shying away from the heat!

  5. Loved this recipe. Waiting for the onions was worth it. I like mine a little less sweet so next time will put half the amount of sugar. Thanks for a cheaper Carbone alternative! Hah

  6. I’m having withdrawals from this pasta too and was looking to find the recipe online. I was certain there were bell peppers in the sauce too! Did you leave them out of your recipe or am I just crazy? Haha

    • It’s the best pasta! Worth the time that goes into it. No bell peppers 🙂 there are calabrian chiles in the recipe and they give it some spice but no bell peppers in the OG. Hope you enjoy!!

  7. Hi,

    Just checking this isn’t a mistake. "Continue to simmer the onions over low heat, stirring occasionally, until they are tender, about 1½ hours."

    1-1/2 hours?!? Really?